Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F-6549-01). (Hon. Rafael Diaz, Trial Judge).
Before Farrell and Washington, Associate Judges, and Pryor, Senior Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Washington, Associate Judge
After a jury trial, appellant Frederick L. Blunt ("Blunt") was found not guilty of armed robbery and possession of a firearm during a crime of violence,*fn1 but convicted of the lesser-included offense of robbery.*fn2 On appeal, Blunt's main contention is that the trial court erred when it deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to confront a key government witness Donnell Doy ("Doy") by limiting cross-examination. Because we agree with Blunt, we need not address the second issue of whether the court erred in failing to answer the jury's question regarding Doy's status as a prosecution witness and whether he could be prosecuted for this crime in the future.*fn3 Accordingly, we reverse Blunt's conviction and remand the case for a new trial.
On August 13, 2001, the complaining witness, Lisa Richardson ("Richardson"),pulled her car into the parking lot of a liquor store at 18th Street and Benning Road, Northeast, Washington, D.C. Two men, who had been walking in front of Richardson's car, moved out of her way so that she could park her car. After Richardson came out of the store a few minutes later, she again saw one of the men, who was later identified as Doy, standing at the top of the parking lot outside the store. When Richardson arrived at her car, another man approached her from behind, pointed his gun at her, and demanded that she give him her pocketbook.Although he now had covered his face with a black t-shirt, Richardson recognized this man to be the man with whom Doy had been walking when she first drove into the parking lot a few minutes earlier.Richardson saw that he had the same braids in his hair and was wearing the same outfit as when she first pulled into the parking lot(white t-shirt and denim shorts).
After Richardson gave the robber her pocketbook, the man ran away into an alley. Richardson then drove to a nearby church, and upon exiting her car, saw Doy walking down the street. Richardson began to scream at him, saying that he knew who committed the robbery. Doy responded that he knew nothing about the robbery and walked on. After police were called, they took Richardson's statement and obtained descriptions of the two men. That same day, police located and arrested Doy as the man who had been allegedly standing at the top of the parking lot before Richardson was robbed. After a few hours, Doy gave a videotaped statement identifying Blunt as the man who robbed Richardson. Although Doy admitted that he was in the parking lot at the time of the robbery, he stated that it was Blunt, not he, who robbed Richardson. The case against Doy was "no-papered," meaning that he was not prosecuted for the robbery. He testified for the government in Blunt's trial.
At trial, the prosecutor did not elicit an in-court identification from Richardson, although on cross-examination she identified Blunt apparently unexpectedly as the man who robbed her. Doy was the only government eyewitness to the robbery to identify "Fred" (Blunt) as the robber prior to trial. Doy testified that he and Blunt were merely acquaintances, and that he did not even know Blunt's last name. Doy testified that, on August 13, 2001, Blunt had revealed to him that he intended to commit a robbery.Furthermore, Doy stated that he was with Blunt when Blunt robbed Richardson at gunpoint.
Defense counsel sought to cross-examine Doy about a 2001 second-degreeassault charge against him in Maryland that had been put on the "stet" docket.*fn4 Defense counsel believed that, because a "stet" case in Maryland could be brought back to life (i.e., Doy could face prosecution on the charges), Doy would be biased to testify favorably for the government in this case. The government opposed the line of questioning, stating that the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia could not influence another jurisdiction to proceed with the prosecution of a particular defendant. Based on this representation, the court denied the defense request, stating that this was an improper line of cross-examination because cases stay on the "stet" docket in Maryland much longer than they do in the District, and that "those stet docket offenses are not convictions."*fn5
On the second day of jury deliberations, the jury sent a note to the court asking for clarification on Doy's status as a prosecution witness. The jury's note read: "Legal question: Since the charges brought against Donnell Doy in relation to this case have been dismissed, can he be charged again? i.e.[,] can he still be brought to trial and face possible jail time for his role in this robbery even though the charges against him have been dismissed?"
After discussing how to proceed with the parties, the trial court decided not to answer the jury's question directly. Instead, the court instructed the jurors to rely on the evidence before them and their memory of the proceedings.*fn6 The court told the parties (but not the jury) that it was "hesitant" to answer the question because "only the [g]overnment knows whether they can bring the charges back or will bring the charges back and what is the likelihood that the charges will be brought back."After deliberating, the jury found Blunt guilty of robbery.
On appeal, Blunt argues that the trial court violated his Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses when it limited his cross-examination of Doy. Specifically, Blunt argues that he should have been allowed to cross-examine Doy about Doy's pending charges on the "stet" docket in Prince George's County, Maryland. Because those charges could have been revived, Blunt contends on appeal that this line of cross-examination was relevant "to show Doy's additional motivation to fabricate and to attempt to stay in the good graces of the prosecution." Blunt argues that it is immaterial whether or not the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia could actually influence the States Attorney for Prince George's County to prosecute Doy; rather it is Doy's subjective belief that controls when assessing his bias to curry favor with the prosecution.
The government argues that Blunt has failed to offer evidence that Doy's Maryland "stet" charges actually gave rise to an independent basis for exploring bias or "somehow influenced Mr. Doy to want to curry favor with the prosecution." Because of Blunt's lack of evidence and his failure to voir dire Doy about his beliefs regarding the U.S. Attorney's ability to influence the Maryland prosecutor, the government argues that it is merely speculative that Doy was biased in favor of the government.*fn7 The government further argues that the potential bias does not flow logically from the facts of the case ...